Claire Culwell: That was the moment when she read the words on the card that said, “Thank you for choosing life for me.” I was met with the most shocking news of my life, the most painful tears I’ve ever seen in anyone’s eyes before.
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John Fuller: Claire Culwell is the survivor of an abortion and her birth mom was only 13 years old. Today on Focus on the Family, you’ll hear a difficult yet very heartwarming story of how those two women reunited years later, and God’s redeeming work in their lives. Your host is Focus on the Family, president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Uh, John people can make moral or political arguments about abortion all day long, but nothing has more impact in this debate than the woman making a life or death decision for their child or the words of the child who survived that abortion. And we’re gonna speak to both of those perspectives today. Uh, we’re gonna talk with a woman who faced pregnancy as a 13-year-old girl and her daughter who survived that abortion attempt. And I hope you’ll stay with us, uh, for a compelling conversation to find out what God has done in their lives.
John: Mm-hmm. And Claire Culwell is the author of a new book, Survivor: An Abortion Survivor’s Surprising Story of Choosing Forgiveness and Finding Redemption. We do have copies of that here at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And Claire has spoken boldly on Capitol Hill, in state legislatures, uh, in other places as well for the pro-life cause. She’s married and has four kids. And she and her birth mom Tonya have been, uh, developing their relationship for the past several years. And Tonya herself is becoming pretty involved in speaking out for life.
Jim: Well, Claire and Tonya, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Claire: Thank you so much.
Tonya Glasby: Thank you.
Jim: It’s good to have you. And Barbara, your adoptive mom is in the audience.
Claire: She is.
Jim: So I want to make sure she gets a shout out too. (laughs) So, uh, it’s wonderful to have all three of you here at Focus on the Family. Uh, Claire, I so identify with difficulty in life and you know, you may have gotten off to a rough start, maybe even unknowingly had loving adoptive parents, but in that regard, uh, your identity was developing as a young person. How did you learn that you were adopted?
Claire: I actually don’t remember finding out that I was adopted. This was something that my sister and I were, were both adopted and, uh, this was something we knew for as long as we can remember. It was something that was incredibly positive growing up for us. Uh, we remember our parents telling us all along that we were wanted, chosen, and loved. And those were, you know, strongholds in my life that I clung to no matter what came in my life. Um, and so I remember actually people asking in school like, “Gosh, what was it like at the orphanage?” Or, “Sorry that you’re adopted. I mean, that must’ve been so awful, so hard.” And we were so confused by that because adoption was such a positive thing in our life and in our family.
Claire: Um, what we found is that most people had seen the movie Annie, (laughs) and so they thought there was like a Miss Hannigan in my life or something (laughs)-
Claire: -something that made it, it, this difficult circumstance. But really, um, the words that our parents spoke over us and the way that they interacted with us and loved us, helped us know that, um, we were just as wanted, chosen and loved as any child that was born into their family naturally.
Jim: But that is so spectacular that they were able to give that to you. So you had a very secure identity.
Claire: I did.
Jim: And, and it’s awesome. And I could see that. Claire, you alluded to this, but your medical condition, when you were born, you had some issues that the doctors and your adoptive parents obviously needed to deal with, what happened?
Claire: So, um, I was born at 10 weeks prematurely, uh, because when they performed the abortion, uh, that successfully aborted my twin, they ripped the amniotic sac that I was in. And so Tonya had been leaking amniotic fluid and actually had a dry birth, um, when she delivered me. And so come to find out years later, as doctors have examined my records, uh, the club feet that I was born with and the dislocated hip that I was born with are common complications with twins and with premature babies. And so, um, we don’t know, you know, if the abortion procedure caused these complications or, uh, that caused a premature birth, or if I would have been born with that and my twin would have been born with that. Um, we don’t know, but my parents, uh, obviously when they got the call to adopt me, it wasn’t the call they expected, that a three-pound baby girl with complications was born. They didn’t know, you know, what kind of care I would need. I actually went through body casts as a child to correct these medical complications. Um, and I still have some, some things today, some, uh, physical, uh, chronic pain and different issues, uh, with my hips and with my feet that I still struggle with. Um, and it’s my everyday reminder of what, uh, we experienced, uh, Tonya and I, because of abortion.
Jim: Tonya, um, let’s start with where you were at years ago. You’re a 13-year-old girl, found out you’re pregnant.
Jim: I can only imagine all the emotions that were going through your mind. This is in the late 80s.
Jim: Um, take us back to that, and help the listener feel what that was like to be a 13-year-old and pregnant?
Tonya: Um, very frightening, scary, um, but also excited at the same time. Um, I sometimes wonder how can you be so excited at that young of an age, but it is a life. So, um, but just very scared and, um, confused on where, you know, my path would go, how would I tell my parent? Um, you know.
Jim: And let’s describe that because it’s pretty important. Your, your mom was not very pleased obviously.
Tonya: My mom was, my mom was not a compassionate mother whatsoever. Um, so therefore I seeked compassion outside and, um, of the home.
Tonya: And that was always with boys.
Tonya: And so I confided in my best friend Romy and told her, we knew for a little bit, you know, I could just tell, okay. You know, something ain’t right. So then it, you know, it came down to where I had to tell my mom, the most frightening day of my entire life, besides telling Claire that she was supposed to be aborted but wasn’t. Um, when I told my mom, yeah, I was scared. Um, she immediately, there was no kind of, um, you know, “Let’s talk about this, let’s find the best things to do about it.” It was immediately, “We got to get rid of it. We can’t, you know, you cannot do this, you cannot drag our family name through the ground.”
Jim: So a lot of shaming?
Tonya: A lot of shaming. And, um, you know, we never could speak about it.
Jim: Right. That led you down a path that was, you know, unfortunate, I’m sure maybe you could say as positive as might be said is that your mom was trying to help you, but didn’t, wasn’t equipped to know how to do that. So she points you toward an abortion.
Tonya: It’s an easy fix.
Jim: Right. And you know, this is what we need to do. And at 13, I mean, that’s young.
Jim: So, you know, I can’t imagine all that was going on there. Your dad in this picture? Was he not in the picture any longer or what was happening?
Tonya: My dad has always been in the picture. My dad was a severe alcoholic. Um, I’ve only known my dad to be sober for 11 years.
Jim: Yeah, that’s another whole in your heart.
Tonya: Um, 11 wonderful years I may add. Uh, so we always went there, but we never told dad of things because the consequences.
Jim: So you go for the exam, uh, what happened? What did the doctor tell you?
Tonya: Um, so I went in this little shotgun house, Backwoods Abortion Clinic. Really, they never talk to you.
Tonya: They have no compassion for you. It is, you know, “Here’s your gown, get undressed, lay up here. We’re going to examine you. And yes, you’re pregnant. Get dressed, go out and make an appointment for your abortion.”
Jim: And it’s that straightforward.
Jim: But they miss something.
Jim: And this is pretty critical, and Claire, we’re going to bring in here pretty quick. But what did they say and what did they do at at that abortion?
Tonya: Well, um, I had my abortion procedure done and I went home and went on with life. You know, just, you had… I had to go home and pretend like that never happened.
Jim: Right. To make your mom happy?
Tonya: Yeah. You know, you go home and you’ve spent this whole day in an abortion clinic. You’re in agonizing pain mentally and physically and, um, you can’t speak of it.
Jim: Mm-hmm. Yeah. But there was something happening?
Tonya: Yes. So go back to school. Everything’s normal. And I continue my body is still changing. So I’m like, okay, something’s wrong, Romy. You know, I think I’m still pregnant, but I wasn’t sexually active. I hadn’t been sexually active since I gotten pregnant. So I had to tell my mom again, you know, I haven’t been sexually active, which she never believed.
Tonya: Um, so back to the abortion clinic we go. And we go to the same one and they’re like, “She’s too far along. We won’t do it. But you can go to Kansas.” And Kansas does the long-term.
Jim: Long term.
Tonya: Yeah. So I get there and I’m too far along.
Jim: Even for them?
Tonya: Yeah. Because at that time it was cut off at 20 weeks, I believe.
John: And Tonya, for listeners who are tracking along here, you actually had been originally pregnant with twins, right?
Tonya: Yes. I was pregnant with twins.
John: And so the abortion was effective.
Tonya: Yes. The abortion was effective, but I was still pregnant. So when I went back to Kansas, um, not only was I too far along, but they said, you know, this baby, there’s no way that I had gotten pregnant from the first abortion and be this far along, so it had to be twins.
Jim: In that context, uh, how did you decide then to, um, give Claire up for adoption? Was that the only option? Did you think of any other things that could be done? Could you keep her?
Tonya: Oh, I would love to have kept her, but that wasn’t an option.
Jim: Your mom was dead set against that?
Tonya: That was even spoke about.
Jim: Yeah. How did that transpire emotionally then for you? You had to give birth to Claire, the unexpected one, you thought that your baby been aborted.
Tonya: Oh, the emotions.
Jim: And now here you have the twin…
Tonya: The confusion of this is really happening. Can this really happen? You know? Um, I remember with the first abortion I was so heartbroken, but I was so relieved at the same time. And I know that’s strange that you’re 13, you’re pregnant, um…
Tonya: You just think that, you know, first you’re celebrating, you’re pregnant and then you’re celebrating that you’re not pregnant ’cause you don’t want to be pregnant. But then to find out that you still are pregnant, you aborted one of your babies.
Tonya: Um, I just truly can’t tell you the exact emotions.
Tonya: Very heartbreaking.
Tonya: An emotional roller coaster.
Jim: Yeah. And you could see that. I mean tears all these years later, (laughs) which is the right thing. I mean, your heart is broken over that and it’s okay. ‘Cause that, that’s traumatic.
Tonya: Well the wonder. You know, what’s bothered me so much lately, it’s just the wonder, you know, what do they look like?
Tonya: You know, boy or girl? What’s it’s personality, is it like Claire?
Tonya: And you don’t think about that when you’re aborting your baby.
Jim: No, not at all. And you have such a unique perspective as the birth mom.
Tonya: Oh, thank you.
Jim: You know here, you had to make that decision. It was forced upon you that you really didn’t make a decision. But in that context to carry the emotions of a baby that you lost to abortion, and then Claire who was saved really by God’s grace.
Tonya: Thank goodness.
Jim: I mean, you think about that, yeah, they could have aborted both babies. And that gives you a unique perspective because you know what Claire has grown into be a wonderful woman-
Jim: -fighting for the cause of life for children of her own.
Tonya: I know.
Jim: And that’s the message of, the powerful message of a mom.
Jim: This is what makes it so unique.
Tonya: I can’t wait for the reunion.
John: Yeah. Well, our guest today on Focus on the Family are Claire Culwell and Tonya Glasby. And uh, wow. What a story. And it’s captured in Claire’s book, Survivor: An Abortion Survivor’s Surprising Story of Choosing Forgiveness and Finding Redemption. Uh, stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY for your copy.
Jim: Claire, here you are. You showed up. Awesome.
Claire: It’s pretty crazy. Um, the most shocking moment of my life was sitting face-to-face with Tonya. And she told me that I had survived an abortion, that I had been a twin. You know, these weren’t things that I grew up knowing.
Jim: What year was that?
Claire: Um, I found out in, uh, 2009 when I was 21 years old.
Jim: Right. So you had been on this journey to connect with your birth mom, you had a wonderful adoptive family, of course, Barbara is here, and I mentioned her in the beginning. But that question popped up. You had a sister who was also adopted in the family, correct?
Claire: Yes. My sister Rachel is adopted and so she met her birth mother. And then I started to think about Tonya. Like, was she waiting for 21 years for me to, to thank her in the same way that my sister was able to thank her birth mother? I mean, had she been thinking about me all this time, I had had questions? And so, um, I wanted to reach out to her to get to know her, um, hopefully, but at least to thank her for my life and for my family, because I knew that she completed our family in the same way that Rachel’s birth mother had.
Jim: Yeah. Let’s uh, describe how the two of you connected to make sure that the listeners know that. It was 2009. What transpired? Your adopted sister had that experience of finding her birth mother that planted the seed in you as you described, then how did it unfold?
Claire: I went home that night and actually opened up the conversation with my parents and with my sister about searching for my birth mother. And so the next day I got on the phone and I called a Deaconess in Oklahoma, which is, um, the adoption agency that I was adopted through, uh, where Tonya lived when she was pregnant with me. And I called them and a woman named Debbie actually answered my phone call. And I told her who I was and she said, “Oh my goodness, I know exactly who you are. I’ve actually had your picture on my desk for the past 21 years. And you’re tiny. You have your little casts on your feet and this harness on your hips.” And, um, I remember being confused by that phone call, like why in the world would someone keep my baby picture on their desk for 21 years?
Claire: But this was, um, just a little glimpse of what was about to transpire as I met my birth mother. And so Debbie found Tonya and asked her if my birthday meant anything to her. And Tonya said yes, and, uh, she agreed to meet me. And so we met, uh, in Dallas and we had this incredible reunion.
Claire: Um, when I opened the door, uh, do you wanna talk about that?
Jim: Yeah, I can’t imagine.
Claire: Do you wanna…
Jim: I can’t imagine what that would be like.
Tonya: Oh, I have goosebumps just thinking about it. (laughs)
Jim: Yeah. I mean…
Claire: We both, like, we open the door and we were like looking at ourselves, (laughs) like we look so much alike and we, uh, I mean, we even act a lot alike. We have, um, I was studying to be a nurse at the time and Tonya was a nurse. And so there were so many similarities. I think I brought a stack of pictures like this big to show her, uh, from my life and…
Tonya: We ate a lot and cried a lot and laughed a lot, looked at pictures.
Claire: We did.
Jim: What did that feel like for you-
Jim: -Tonya, in terms of the completion of that circle, cause…
Tonya: Um, just the whole experience was, I mean, wonderful. Uh, we met at some of Barbara’s friends and, uh, they just all took me and my husband and my kids in, you know, with open arms. I never… Once I went in that door, I never felt uncomfortable. I felt loved and accepted and it was just great. You know, I’m like, “My girl.”
Tonya: “I’m seeing my girl again.”
Jim: Yeah. I mean, what a wonderful, um, end of the sentence of that part of your life, right? The story, and you get a chance to meet Claire because of that 2009 meeting. Claire, I believe you gave Tonya a card, which is pretty integral to the story. How… What transpired with that?
Claire: Our first meeting went so well that we wanted to continue our relationship. And so, um, I got her a gift. I wanted to remind her that she was an incredible mother for me because she had placed me for adoption and given me my family. I knew that oftentimes women that do place their babies, they struggle with that feeling like they weren’t a good mother and I wanted to, you know, tear down those lives that maybe she believed about herself. And so I got her a ring and a necklace with my birth stone on it, and then a card. And in the card I wrote, “Thank you for choosing life for me.” And so when I got to Oklahoma, my first trip to visit Tonya and her family, uh, I gave her these gifts. And that was the moment when she read the words on the card that said, “Thank you for choosing life for me.” Um, I thought it would be this incredible moment where I would tell her everything she longed to hear for 21 years. I thought it would be like this redemptive breakthrough moment. And I was met with the most shocking news of my life, the most painful tears I’ve ever seen in anyone’s eyes before. Um, and it changed my life forever. As she told me about being pregnant with me at 13 years old, and that I had survived her abortion procedure, that was meant to end my life and that I had been a twin. Um, but I was, I was taken back by her tears, um…
Jim: By her grief.
Claire: By her grief. It is, I mean, you saw a little bit today, but it was it’s indescribable to me to tell you what, what I saw in her eyes that day as she described it.
Jim: Ta- Tonya, let me grab that because you read the card and it obviously went right into your heart.
Tonya: Well, it’s in my heart anyway.
Tonya: You know, I wanted to tell her in Texas.
Jim: At your first meeting?
Tonya: Yeah. So I thought about it and thought about it and thought about it, and I just couldn’t do it. And I regretted it when I went home, because that should have been the first thing that she knew, that probably should have been the first thing that Barbara knew that… I remember telling her and I was immediately relieved, you know, at that horrible, horrible thing that had happened in my life. And she’s the only person that didn’t know about it.
Tonya: My husband knew about it. My children have known about it since a young age. I’ve never kept it from em. Kind of like her knowing she was adopted from a young age. My kids have always known that I had an abortion and it killed one of my babies and they had a sister somewhere. But I was just so relieved, but I was so scared that she would not accept me. I was scared that she would think that I aborted her brother or sister, and I tried to abort her when it didn’t work, I tried again. And when that didn’t work, I gave her away. But that’s not how it happened.
Tonya: You know, she forgave me right away. She’s loved me since that day. And I’m so thankful that she did.
Jim: And that’s true. And that’s, you know, what a beautiful place we have to end, but people can read the whole story by getting a copy of your book. But I, I think the key here and what I’m sensing is just, um, when things are given over to God, he does wrap it in a beautiful bow.
Tonya: Oh, you can’t even imagine.
Jim: And, yeah, (laugh), just listening to your story, you know, it is the gift that he’s given your family, all of you, including Barbara and her husband, that your adoptive parents, it’s a beautiful story. And I think the key which some women have told me when a woman is pregnant and they go to consider an abortion, it’s hard for them to think about giving away their baby to adoption. And that’s one of the key things I wanted to stress today for women to definitely consider that life is so much better. The choice for life is a much better choice with fewer regrets.
Tonya: And you have the hope of re, you know, reuniting.
Tonya: Abortion, you never reunite and well, hopefully we will-
Jim: In heaven.
Tonya: -in heaven.
Jim: And I think that’s the key. Those who care about a pro-life perspective, those who care about your story, those that have their own story. Uh, when we engage women who are considering abortion, let’s lift up this idea of adoption, because you are the poster child for that. And the Lord has really blessed you with, uh, a great sensibility that I’m fine. I’m good with this. You’re good with your birth mom, Tonya, and you’re good with your adoptive mom, Barbara, and it’s all working, and this is the way it should be for those difficult situations that women are in.
Claire: God is bigger than our circumstances. And His plan is always bigger and better than our own. And that’s what I found that even in my valleys and my moment where I felt like I was in the trenches and questioning the, the things that were transpiring in my life that He had gone before me, and He knew, and He had a plan and He was going to make a way and make something good out of something that was evil and hurt us so bad.
Jim: Um, Claire, to end it, this would be it, but that woman who is listening and maybe she is pregnant, maybe she has a commitment to Christ, but it’s all confusing right now, um, what would you say to her from your perspective?
Claire: You know, the words that my parents spoke over me, that God says about me, um, that I am valuable and loved and worthy. Um, He says those things about you too. And there are people that want to walk alongside you to make the impossible possible for you, um, so that you never have to experience the pain and regret of abortion like Tonya has, like I have. And so I would encourage you just to reach out, um, today, call in and talk to someone, pray with someone, and get resources because you are stronger than your circumstances and you are supported.
Jim: Well, that’s so true. And I appreciate that. In Focus, that’s one of the reasons we’re here, we have caring Christian counselors, you can call and they’ll talk with you. They’ll schedule a time to call back. And that is a great first step. What should I do now? And certainly reach out to your church, your pastor, whomever is in your life.
Jim: Friends, et cetera.
Jim: Just reach out and talk with somebody. You know, I’m so excited about Option Ultrasound. I know you have helped us promote that here at Focus on the Family. But we’ve been doing this for 16 years. We’ve got the numbers down at $60 to save a baby’s life. I mean, it’s incredible. $60 save a baby’s life. Join us and let the Lord shed His blessing upon you for doing that. And, uh, if you can, uh, support us in that way, uh, we’ll send you a copy of Clare’s book Survivor, as our way of saying thank you for being part of the team.
John: Yeah. And if you can make that a monthly pledge of $60, you’ll be saving a baby’s life every month through that Option Ultrasound program. So please donate that way if you can. We recognize some people aren’t in a spot to do that, and so a one-time gift of $60 sure does accomplish a great deal for one baby. Uh, either way, contact us, donate, uh, to the Ministry of Focus on the Family, and we’ll send this book to you by Claire Culwell, Survivor: An Abortion Survivor’s Surprising Story of Choosing Forgiveness and Finding Redemption. Our number 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Right John, and I want to invite people to come and be a part of our Sea Life Event for 2021. It’s going to be at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, August 28th. And you can get more information by going to the website or calling us here at Focus. We’re hoping many people will stand up for life and be a part of it.
John: Yeah, that’s the combination of a six week online, um, series of videos that we have. So please swing by our website, find out more about the videos and celebrate life live experience that’s happening at the American Airlines Center on the 28th of August as Jim said. All the details are at focusedonthefamily.com/broadcast, or again, our numbers 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Claire, Tonya, thank you so much for being with us. This has been really good. Thank you.
Claire: Thank you so much.
Tonya: Thank you for having us.
John: And thank you for joining us for this episode of Focus on the Family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.